Building up sufficient arm strength

How's your arm strength? Can you hang by your hands from a bar for 30 seconds? Can you pull yourself up? Try sitting in a straight chair, using your hands, push your bottom up off the chair, and raise and lower yourself using just your arms.

If none of this works, you need a little work on those arm muscles.

The key to strength-training any muscle group is to work the muscles to their capacity. It means that the muscles must reach their limit, and each time they do, you add an increase in the range of motion and add to the weight.

You also need to understand the mechanics of a muscle. There are opposing muscle groups in your arms, and they all need to be flexed and straightened over all articulations (or joints) to complete the full range of movement.

When you shorten a muscle, you work to strengthen and tighten; when you lengthen it, you work toward flexibility and stretch. Flexibility is important both for preventing injury and for counterbalancing overload.

For instance, when you work arm muscles, you create tiny tears in the muscle that heal quickly; they also heal shorter. Now you need flexibility moves to keep you from ending up with a decrease in range and joint mobility.

Baseball pitchers who lift weights can alter their pitching technique without realizing it unless they work all sets of upper-body muscles equally. A swimmer or golfer may change the range of motion of an arm stroke by building muscle and also not working on opposing muscles and flexibility.

Triceps, lastissimus dorsi, teres major and posterior deltoid work the shoulder joint during a pull-up on an overhead bar. Also used with the full movement are the brachialis, biceps brachii and brachioradialis. Depending on the type of movement your sport requires, all of these muscles and more need to be addressed with both shortening and lengthening moves.

Forget the fancy terms. Concentrate on finding out first if you need more arm muscle. If you can't lift your bottom off that chair, get yourself a set of wrist weights and start slow elbow bends and chest pressing.

The weights don't need to be fancy; soup cans will do. Then gradually increase the number of repetitions and the amount of weight over a given period of time.

Give yourself two months, and don't slack off. Muscle goes away faster than you can build it, and you'll be back glued to your chair again.

• Jerry Vance is owner of The Sweat Shop/Wet Sweat. She offers classes through Carson City Recreation and Aquatics Center and is a fitness instructor for the Senior Center.


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